This week’s diary takes us to a ruined chapel in Ancoats and a cemetery in Reddish and casts light on the radical history of Manchester and some of the unusual individuals involved…
A few weeks ago, in what seems like a different time and place, Katrina Navickas visited the local history group and gave a fascinating talk about Manchester’s most radical street (which turned out to be Cropper Street in Collyhurst!). One of the places Katrina also mentioned was Christ Church Chapel on Every Street in Ancoats – the chapel was at the heart of activism in Manchester in the mid nineteenth century.
Earlier this week I cycled into town to take a look at the remains of the chapel, now nothing more than a low circular wall, marking the shape of the building, enclosing a stand of silver birch trees. Surrounding the wall a few gravestones lie on the ground.
Christ Church Chapel, also known as the Roundhouse, was built in 1824 by “Dr” James Scholefield, a charismatic and eccentric preacher with the Bible Christian Movement, a non-conformist sect established in Salford. Scholefield ministered to the working class community living in the neighbourhood, most of whom would have been working in the enormous nearby mills, such as Murray’s Mill which was built in 1797 and is still standing. The founding of the chapel was commented on in a newspaper in far-away Ohio – “a new society of Christians has been formed at Manchester, England, who profess as one of their leading tenets to wear sky-blue stockings and orange coloured shoes”!
Scholefield was a non-conformist in many ways. Like many contemporary preachers he was teetotal, probably after seeing the effects of alcohol on the poor, but he was also vegetarian and in 1851 published a pamphlet celebrating the virtues of vegetarianism. Although lacking formal qualifications, Scholefield worked as a doctor with the poor, and patented the popular “Scholefield’s Cholera Mixture”. Cholera was much feared at the time and in 1831/32 nearly 700 people in Manchester had died from the disease. Scholefield received no income for his ministry, but made money as an undertaker – there was a large graveyard at the chapel and he invented a safety tomb, which protected the burials from grave robbers!
Scholefield’s political radicalism saw Christ Church Chapel host the 1842 Chartist conference. The Chartists were the largest national movement calling for democratic reforms at the time, inspired by the protesters at Peterloo in 1819 and disappointed by the very limited Great Reform Act of 1832. Their main demands were votes for all men at 21, annual elections, a secret ballot, payment for MPs, no property qualification for MPs and equal sized constituencies.
Scholefield was also involved in building a monument outside Christ Church Chapel to Henry Hunt, the main speaker at Peterloo and one of the most famous radical campaigners in early C19 England. The monument was 30 feet high and was demolished in 1888.
Scholefield died in 1855, and it is unlikely that the chapel continued in religious use after his death. Ever the eccentric, before he died he allegedly told his daughters “make what use you can of the chapel, girls. Use it for a circus if you can – after all it’s round. It has served its turn as a chapel.” The chapel was used by University Settlement for many years and was demolished in 1986.
Earlier in lockdown I was walking through the historic Willow Grove cemetery in Reddish, another local discovery for me. One of the graves is a monument to William Henry Chadwick, “The Old Chartist”. His epitaph is very inspiring and worth transcribing in full:
FOR GOD AND THE PEOPLE
In 1848, at the early age of 19, he was
imprisoned for sedition and conspiracy
as a leader of the Chartist movement.
His whole life after was spent in
striving to extend the liberties of the
people and to promote temperance
justice and righteousness.
“I have fought at good fight, I have finished my
course, I have kept the faith.” II Timothy, IV, 7
This stone was erected to his memory by
some of those who shared in his labours
rejoiced in his triumphs
and loved him for himself
Chadwick’s story, like Scholefield’s, is an interesting one, with many twists and turns. Born in Compstall in 1829 to working class parents, William and his family had moved to Manchester by 1842. At the age of 14 he was already a Wesleyan preacher and by his late teens he was immersed in the radical politics of the time. In 1848 William was arrested at a lathe shop in Fairfield Street where he was working as a mechanic, with the manuscript of a poem he had written in his pocket. The poem presumably had a radical message, and he was tried in Liverpool and sentenced to 6 months in prison for sedition and conspiracy as a Chartist leader.
On his release William became a lecturer in science and developed an interest in magnetism and hypnotism. He was linked to one of the great hypnotists of Victorian England, Annie de Montford, who performed as a mesmerist throughout the country.
Later in life he returned to his radical political roots, and in the 1890s he was involved in the campaign to get public access to Kinder Scout, stating that he was prepared to trespass and go to prison if necessary. William also helped to found the agricultural workers’ union and in 1891 became a van lecturer for the National Liberal Federation.
Although we can’t be sure, it’s very likely that William would have known Scholefield. He lived and worked relatively near to the Christ Church Chapel, and their shared politics would almost certainly have brought them together on many occasions. One can even imagine William admiring the monument to Henry Hunt.
As we leave our Manchester Chartists, we’ll end with a description of William’s funeral in 1908 from the Stockport Advertiser:
After a strenuous life in which the old Chartist had taken part in many political battles, it was a singular coincidence that his remains should have been laid to rest in a severe thunderstorm. But so it was; rain fell in torrents accompanied by vivid flashes of lightning and loud peals of thunder as the mourners stood around the grave.